HL Deb 30 June 1983 vol 443 cc400-33

5.38 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they agree that the role of the probation service should be much expanded.

The noble Earl said: My Lords. I rise to ask the Question standing in my name. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who propose to take part in this debate. They are all highly qualified in different ways. Some of them apply the law and other have tried to spiritualise the law—we have two leading ministers of religion; one a Bishop—and others have suffered from the law. At any rate, they will all no doubt make important contributions.

I am sorry that two of those to whom we have listened with special attention on this subject are not able to be with us today. The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, especially asked me to express her general sympathy with the propositions I am unfolding and the same is true for my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell who spoke about these matters in a recent debate and who, of course, was himself a probation officer for many years. I am only sorry that I have not been able to obtain the assistance of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, who has given a lot of attention to prisoners and their problems. She has now been raised to higher spheres of being and we wish her well in the stratosphere.

There are two issues relating to the financial provision of the probation service with which I wish to deal. The first is the present under-financing of the service and the second is the expanded role which I and others believe the service should possess. With that must go the necessary financing.

As we all agree, the probation service makes a vital contribution to the criminal justice system. I venture to assert that this contribution has never been quite so, important as now. Crime goes up and up. There is an increasing understanding of the criminal mind in some quarters; in others, less enlightened but more numerous, I think we see misunderstanding. There is an urgent need to deal with more offenders in the community and to increase the provision to the courts of constructive and positive measures which can act as alternatives to custodial sentences. There is no doubt that Britain imprisons more people than almost any other country in Europe, yet few of us believe that we have more violent crime or that we are more violent people. Who would be prepared to say that we really have more criminals who are a threat to society?

Opinions might differ on where to draw the line. In the foreseeable future those who are a danger to society must be restrained, and with our present state of knowledge we do not seem able to improve on prisons. But beneath that layer of serious and dangerous crime there are thousands of other prisoners whose offences are of a minor nature. We must urgently consider means of releasing them—we have all said this many times; I think that almost everybody who speaks on these matters in the House, whether from the Government Benches or otherwise, has said this at some time—and developing a strategy for avoiding incarceration of others like them in the future. Certainly a humane Minister like the noble Lord, Lord Elton, would echo those sentiments privately, if not publicly, unless I am much mistaken.

We know that far from rehabilitating the offender, so that on release he does not re-offend, the usual effect of prison is the opposite. I am not saying that no one has ever benefited from prison, but I do not think that anybody who has a friend or relative who committed a crime not of the most serious order would wish to see him sent to prison in his own interests. We also know that many—perhaps a high majority—of those who go to prison have gone through life under great disadvantage. If we have any conscience, Christian or Humanist, we must believe that there are better ways of helping them than incarcerating them in goal.

The Government have stated on many occasions that they wish to provide a humane criminal justice system and they have stated their commitment to the probation service. I am sure that, being honourable men or ladies, when they say that they must believe it; but there is not much sign of that in practice. Some growth of the probation service has been allowed. I shall give a few figures but I do not want to dwell too much on the statistics. In 1982–83 a 3 per cent. growth was forecast, and in 1983–84 a 1 per cent. growth is promised. This extra is welcome as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. It represents a rather feeble recognition of the efforts made by the service.

Such increases fall terribly short of full compensation for the increases in workload achieved. Between 1979 and 1981 (which provide the latest figures available to me) the service took on 28 per cent. more probation orders and 78 per cent. more community service orders and prepared 16 per cent. more reports for the courts. The rate of financial growth for 1983–84 of 1 per cent. Corresponds, only to the expansion planned as long ago as 1980. Not even the introduction, welcome though it is, of community service to 16-year-olds is to attract additional vital funding.

Before asking, as I shall do, for an increase for a genuine expansion in the service, I wish to focus attention on things as they are. I must press the Government to fund the probation service much more adequately for the tasks it already performs. The service calculates that it will need £1 million to implement community service for 16-year-olds. How is the service to manage its already tightly stretched budgets if appropriate staffing and financing are not made available? What will be the consequences of a patchy and poor service if probation committees are unable to meet the demands of the courts? I am sure that these are questions which exercise the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who I am very glad to see back in his proper place; I do not mean that it is the only position to which he has any right to aspire, but for the time being it is one which he fills to the great satisfaction of the House. Surely the Government do not wish to undo their own stated intentions by shortsighted parsimony.

Let me turn for a moment to the lessons that can be learnt, and ought to be learnt, from the upsurge in work which the probation service has undertaken. The service recognises that it could improve on its previous figures, and a policy initiative, supported by the service as a whole, led to reappraisal, reorganisation and redoubled efforts. The House will realise that I am speaking with a great deal of assistance from the probation service. The events since 1979 have proved three important points: one, that through a deliberate policy initiative the probation service can expand its role—the job is there to be done; two, that the results of such a drive can make a very large impact; and, three, that the momentum of such an initiative can be sustained only if adequate funding is provided.

Let me return to the fact that we can see that there are substantial numbers of people sent to prison who cannot be regarded as a danger to society. In 1979, 62,611 persons were sent to prison. Of those sentenced by magistrates' courts, 61 per cent. of all males and 78 per cent. of all females who were sent to prison received sentences of six months or less. A detailed breakdown of the prison population at 30th June 1979 showed that 6 per cent. had no previous convictions. Of the total prison population, 70 per cent. were serving sentences for offences which did not involve violence, sex or robbery. Such figures must surely challenge the unjustified assertion that we as a nation imprison only those for whom no alternative exists.

However, in today's climate, leaving out for a moment the ethics—although ethics sometimes, but not always, have a way of going hand in hand with economics—perhaps the costs involved ought also to be brought to light. Here I turn to a subject which a number of us have touched on before now in this House. There are strong enough arguments without recourse to economics but the economic arguments are also compelling. The average weekly cost of keeping a person in prison in 1979-80 was £136. That means that a six-month sentence, allowing for full remission, costs over £2,000, and if someone spent a year in prison they would cost the state over £6,000. That figure does not allow for associated costs such as keeping the prisoner's dependants on state benefits or the long-term cost of damage to the prisoner's future prospects.

Of course, I have to admit—the noble Lord, Lord Elton. if he were not such a generous while at the same time shrewd debater might raise this point—that if only one prisoner less goes to prison, the savings are not noticeable. Larger savings can be made only by a policy initiative which results in very substantially fewer people being imprisoned. The cost of a probation order in 1979–80—we have said these things before, but we must try to come up to date if we can—was calculated to be £400 per year. The cost of a community service order is about £250, while, as I said earlier, the cost of putting someone in prison is £6,000, or more.

Let me take an individual case in point, the details of which have been supplied to me by the probation service as being typical. A 46-year-old man was convicted by summary trial of an offence of shoplifting goods to the value of £6. I repeat that the value was £6—not £60, £600, £6.000—but £6. He had eight previous convictions, none of them for shoplifting, and his last conviction had been three years previously. For the shoplifting offence he was sentenced to 28 days' imprisonment, and he was refused bail pending an appeal against sentence. No probation report had been prepared. That case has been supplied to me by the probation service as being a reasonable example of how things can go wrong in practice.

Let us pause to consider that the cost of producing a social inquiry report is only £90 and that the report might have assisted the court to make a non-custodial disposal and relieve the burden on the prison. It might have retained the man in the community, where he would have maintained his social and family links, and possibly his employment. But in fact he was sent to prison. As is known by everybody, including the distinguished magistrate sitting below me, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who is to wind up the debate, the provision of social inquiry reports is a vital part of the role of the service. It also indicates that there is a substantial group of offenders with whom the probation service has indicated its preparedness to be involved.

I should like to say one word—and it must not be more than one; I have been going round saying that the speeches were much too long yesterday, and so I had better be careful about my own. I see that I have now been speaking for 14 minutes, but the House will not be asked to listen to me for very much longer. There is a further point that I should like to make in connection with public opinion. It is often said that public opinion wants to take it out on prisoners, that public opinion on this matter reflects what many enlightened people would regard as a thoroughly unenlightened attitude. Such claims about public opinion must be looked at rather more carefully than they sometimes are. A recent public opinion poll conducted by the Prison Reform Trust, in conjunction with the Observer revealed that of those questioned, 53 per cent. favoured non-custodial sentences for burglary, 65 per cent. favoured non-custodial sentences for vandalism, and 93 per cent. favoured non-custodial sentences for shoplifting. So I hope that the Government, or others whom I would regard as hard liners, will not argue that public opinion justifies steps which would not be justified on moral grounds.

The picture which I wish to draw to the attention of the House is grim. As we all know, as we have heard a hundred times in this place, the prisons are full to bursting. They are full because we have not been active enough or firm enough in ensuring that prison is used only as a disposal of last resort. In finding alternatives the probation service has worked vigorously and to breaking point, and today the service finds itself bemused by the messages of encouragement from the Government which are not backed up by adequate funds.

As I said at the beginning, there are two issues relating to the service. The first is that recognising the intrinsic value of the probation service, the Government should provide the funding necessary for the present tasks. The second issue is that the work should now be greatly expanded and the necessary finance for that purpose should also be provided. The present Government, any other Government in this country, we ourselves—the citizens—are very fortunate in possessing a probation service which is certainly unsurpassed anywhere in the world. We are proud of what it does, but if we wish to do it justice we shall give it much better opportunities and much more support than we do at present.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I am sure that we all join in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for the opportunity that he has given us today to discuss the work of the probation service. I participate in the debate with particular pleasure because for five years. I had ministerial responsibility for the service, and for a further three years as chairman of the Parole Board I had the opportunity of seeing the work of the service, as did my noble friend Lord Hunt before me. I think that both of us, and indeed all our colleagues on the Parole Board, would join in an expression of appreciation of the very high quality of work that we experienced from members of the service.

This evening I want to discuss three issues: first, the workload which is at the moment being carried by the service—a point touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Longford; secondly, the character of that work; and, thirdly, the question of the relations between the probation service and Government. Given the fact that I propose to make one or two observations on the last point, I should at this stage say that I am president of the National Association of Senior Probation Officers.

I turn first to the workload of the service. I believe that all of us recognise that at the moment the probation service is under exceptionally heavy pressure; but so of course is the entire criminal justice system. We are continuing to experience a remorseless rise in the level of crime, in particular serious crime, and that of course carries with it direct implications for every part of the system—the courts, the police, the prisons, and the probation service. Any Government, whatever their political persuasion, would find the resource consequences of such pressure disturbing; and this must be even more so in the case of a Government such as the present one, determined to make harsh cuts in the overall level of public expenditure.

It is of course true that the present Government have made additional resources available for the criminal justice system. Police strength has continued to rise as a result of both generous pay settlements and the savage reduction of employment opportunities for the young. As undoubtedly the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will be telling us in an hour or so at the end of the debate, more resources have certainly been made available for the probation service. But substantial additional resources were also made available to both services by the present Government's predecessors—a point which perhaps the noble Lord might not emphasise with the same degree of vigour. But unhappily the situation at the moment is that so far as the probation service is concerned the additional resources that have been made available by the present Government are simply not keeping pace with the increased pressure of work which is now facing the service.

I should like to give some illustrations. As we can all see from the probation statistics for 1982, which were published by the Home Office last week, there has been a further increase—albeit this time a rather more modest one—in the numbers commencing supervision under the probation service. Since 1978 the total doing so has expanded by no less than 35 per cent. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, mentioned a moment or two ago, there has also been a very substantial increase in the number of community service orders made in the courts. I welcome this, as I am sure we all do. I think it admirable that the courts are using non-custodial disposals far more extensively. But, sadly, resources are not expanding at anything approaching this rate, and we are now experiencing the consequences of that failure.

Let me give some examples. Community service has now been extended to 16-year-olds. This, indeed, is essential if we are to avoid more boys being committed into custody, but I am told by a number of chief probation officers that they will be unable to extend this scheme to their areas because the resources are simply not available. The result of the scheme not being extended to those areas is that many youths will be sentenced unnecessarily to terms of custody. That, I believe, is deplorable.

Even worse, I am told that in a number of areas, including the West Midlands, the probation service has to inform the courts from time to time that it is unable to accept any more community service orders, that is, not 16-year-olds, but community service orders generally, because it simply does not have the staff to supervise the offenders concerned. It is compelled, in short, to turn off the tap so far as community service is concerned. So, at a time when there is intolerable pressure in the prisons and at a time when hundreds of remand prisoners are having to be kept overnight in police custody, often, as we know, in shocking conditions and at considerable expense to the taxpayer, courts are being compelled to send people to prison because the probation service is being denied the resources to staff adequately these community service schemes. To put it as politely as possible, that does not seem to be a particularly sensible policy. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will deal directly with it when he speaks.

Secondly, I should like to turn to the character of the work now facing the probation service. I am well aware, of course, that many members of the probation service enjoy their work in the civil courts. But, as the probation statistics for 1982 show, the amount of this work is now increasing at a considerable pace. The number of reports prepared in 1982 for non-criminal courts relating to custody of, and access to, children was 6 per cent. higher than in 1981. This followed similar increases in previous years. The number of other non-criminal reports primarily relating to guardianship inquiries and work for the county courts was no less than 14 per cent. higher in 1982 than in the previous year. Again, this followed the pattern of the two preceding years.

At a time when the probation service is being denied adquate resources to perform its work in the criminal courts, the Government must, I believe, make up their minds whether they are prepared to allow this increasing flow of work to be diverted in this way from the social service departments of local authorities to probation, which is primarily a criminal justice service. Unless some sensible order of priorities is established, we will continue to see people being sent to prison because the resources are not available to supervise them in the community while, at the same time, a wholly uncontrolled rise is taking place in probation work in non-criminal courts. I hope, again, that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will deal with this point this evening.

I hope he will say what the Government propose to do about it. If he argues that the service is simply responding to the demands of the non-criminal courts, why are different standards being applied to the criminal courts which are constantly being frustrated because of lack of resources of the probation service, as I have indicated? I must tell the House quite bluntly that if we see a continuation of this pattern of rapidly increasing work in the non-criminal courts and a continuation of the rise in the level of crime—there is no indication at the moment, unhappily, that it is turning down—and, at the same time, a strict limitation on growth in the probation service, we shall simply not, as a society, be able to provide the range of non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment that is essential if we are to prevent the deplorable conditions in our prisons deteriorating still further.

I should like to put one particular suggestion to the Government as a means of dealing with this disquieting position in relation to non-criminal courts. At present, the service draws 80 per cent. of its money from the Home Office and 20 per cent. from local funds. Why is the service supported only from the Home Office Vote when that department has no responsibility whatever for the non-criminal courts? Why, at a time when the resources of the probation service are stretched to breaking point, does the Home Secretary not invite the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to make a contribution towards the cost of the probation service from his Vote? In this way the divorce and county courts could continue to draw on the resources of the probation service without threatening the work of that service in the criminal courts. Again, I would be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has to say about that suggestion.

Lastly, I turn to the issue of relations between the probation service and Government. It would be idle to pretend, in a year that has witnessed the first national strike by probation officers, that relations between the probation service and Government are particularly good. There is some suspicion of the motives of the Government among some members of the service and no doubt irritation among Ministers that the service is behaving in what they regard as a foolish manner. Having had, as I have indicated, some responsibility for the probation service in the past without having experienced any of the problems confronting the present Government, there is, I suppose, a slight risk that, viewed in retrospect, one might persuade oneself that this was the golden age of probation. Let me reassure the noble Lord that I would not, in fact, suggest that. There were at that time quite sharp arguments between the probation service and the then Government. One obvious example was resources. But, of course, at that time the pressure on the system was a great deal less severe than it is at the moment.

There was also the beginning of trouble between the leadership of the National Association of Probation Officers and the Home Office. Then, the issue that caused conflict was the decision by NAPO to call on its members to refuse to supervise so-called political offenders. In the aftermath of the Grunwick dispute and the affair of the Shrewsbury pickets, this was entirely unacceptable. We told NAPO so in the bluntest of terms. However, the area of dispute has now widened considerably, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will he well aware. There has been the one-day strike called in protest at the Government's decision on probation students' salaries. There is now the follow-up to that strike, the call by the National Association of Probation Officers to its members to decline to collect probation statistics. There is also the demand by NAPO that its members should refuse to have anything to do with one element of last year's Criminal Justice Act, the night restriction order.

I have no intention this evening of discussing at any length the merits of the arguments deployed by the Government and NAPO on each of these issues. As I have made clear, I do not believe that the question of probation students' salaries was handled with good sense by the Home Office. It certainly was not, but I have equally made clear that I believe that the decision to call the strike was a profound error.

The strike was, of course, ineffective, being ignored by many members of the probation service. It was also damaging to the interests of the probation service. Probation officers are seen by members of the public to be members of a caring profession. That reputation is not enhanced when probation officers leave their posts and deliberately render themselves unavailable to their clients, frequently troubled and disturbed people who may want to contact their supervising officer at a moment of acute personal crisis.

At a time when we want to do everything possible to encourage the growth of non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment, it was deeply disappointing that NAPO took action which was bound to lead to doubts by some courts about the sense of responsibility of some members of the probation service. I am well aware of the continuing ill-feeling about probation students' allowances. However, I hope that probation officers will hesitate long before they follow their leadership's call to refuse to collect probation statistics. This is a particularly silly idea. Without these statistics it will be quite impossible to measure the increased workload being carried by the service; and without that information it will be difficult for the Home Office or, indeed, even for NAPO itself to make a serious case for increased resouces for the probation service. Therefore, I very much hope that NAPO will think better of this and will withdraw its particularly ill-judged suggestion to its members that they should cease collecting probation statistics.

I must say, too, that the Government cannot be acquitted of all responsibility for this deterioration in relationships. Not only was the issue of students' allowances mishandled, as it was, but they were also most unwise to force the issue of night restriction orders on to an unwilling probation service. Here I refer not simply to NAPO but to a very large number of other experienced probation officers who regarded this as one of the silliest proposals in last year's Criminal Justice Act. Of course, NAPO is entirely wrong to call on its members to ignore the law of this country, which is a particularly inappropriate suggestion coming from an association representing, as it does, officers of the courts. But for the Government to have imposed this provision against the almost unanimous opposition of the probation service was, I believe, an act of quite extraordinary insensitivity.

If the probation service is to take on additional responsibilities I believe it is essential that the Government should now make a major effort to rebuild an atmosphere of trust and co-operation with the overwhelming majority of members of the service who are responsible, dedicated men and women. There is no desire among that majority for senseless, endless confrontation between the service and the Government. What they want, I believe, is just two things. The first is that Ministers will listen seriously to their views. No one expects them always to be accepted, but they do believe that if Ministers want to create a climate of co-operation then they should have a decent regard for the views of the service. Secondly, they believe that they are simply not getting the resouces that they require to fulfil the duties passed on to them both by Parliament and by the courts. I believe that on that matter they are entirely right. I hope that on both those important matters the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will tonight be able to bring us some message of encouragement and hope.

6.14 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, we all stand in debt to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and we listened with the greatest of care to all that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has told us from his wide experience on this very important subject. I wish to confine myself to quite a narrow area of this very wide field. First, I should like to glance back historically and remind your Lordships that the phrase that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, used about probation officers being a caring profession is true and historical. I believe that the debate in this House will encourage probation officers, both young in training and old in years of experience, to continue to strive for those high standards. The pressures on them are immense, but they are caring profession and it is right that we should honour them as such.

Historically the probation service goes back to the old Police Court Mission. The Police Court Mission itself was one of the great and early "comings together" of a strong Christian conviction and a breadth of social caring. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who follows me on the list of speakers, will, from his very deep experience, speak in those terms; I know not, but I should be surprised if he did not do so. The Christian thread that runs through the probation service is still true today even though now it is a very much larger affair, fully professionalised, and so on.

When preparing to take some small part in a debate like this from the Benches of the Bishops, it is sometimes helpful to see what is the particular Christian content in a wide social field such as this one. I have been in touch with a few of my probation officers who are themselves in my diocese and men not only of great professional ability but of very strong and clear Christian conviction. Some of the things that I shall say, although not all, are based upon their material The say: We want to encourage society to accept offenders while disapproving of their offences". That is a very difficult tightrope for the probation officer to walk when he is dealing with his client.

It is even more difficult for us to face among the general public when we cannot help but be shocked and saddened by news of particular violent and terrible crimes like the crimes reported in the past few days in the public press. Such crimes begin to make many of us think that among the more simple-minded—and I use that phrase technically—the unrestricted use and present growth of video films is beginning to have a definite impact upon people with violent tendencies. I think of the case that has been reported in the papers during the past few days. Therefore, our probation officers have a very difficult task in seeking to keep to that narrow central line of encouraging society both to love the sinner and also to disapprove strongly of the offences.

I think of Michael Whitaker who was a distant kinsman of mine who died recently and who was the moving force behind victims of violence. He was well known to the noble Earl and I know that he gained great strength and was much encouraged in the very lonely work that he sought to do by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, when he was particularly caring for the victims of violence. It is into that setting that many probation officers find themselves thrown and they face enormous emotional problems.

So although, of course, I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has said in his very temperate criticism of our probation service, I think that in this Chamber we would do well to remember that they themselves are out at the very sharp point of confrontation with humanity in its weakness and in its sinfulness; and yet as a Christian one must say at its possibility of redemption.

Another probation officer was telling me how he went to Holland in the 1970s and found that the Dutch people in both their phlegmatic and Christian way seemed to have come to this balance of more readily accepting offenders and yet objecting to their crimes than perhaps we do in this country, and thus making more possible the development of both the community service ideal and the non-custodial sentence pattern of the future.

There is a sense in which we cannot easily press beyond the conscience or, if you like, sometimes the prejudice of contemporary society. I am not as firm a believer as the noble Earl in objection to—and I use his word—"incarceration", which is a long word meaning to put in "jug", but I shall look it up when I get home. "incarceration" has a certain pejorative phrase about it. I am not as opposed as he is because I believe that there is a sense in which, in Christian justice, someone who has done something wrong has a just sense of knowing that he deserves punishment. I believe that the pattern of a short period of punishment and then a real attempt at reclamation, leading to the kind of probation officer care which is a comforting one, is the way in which in general terms we should seek to reclaim those who have committed especially violent crimes.

I use the word "comfort" because I am glad to say that in your conservative way your Lordships have a great love for the Book of common Prayer. You will remember that there are comfortable words in the Book of Common Prayer and, of course, the word "fortis" or "strength" is at the heart of the word "comfortable". There is a sense in which our probation officers have to be "comforting" officers; they must not just be soft with people, but strengthen them in their new resolve for the future.

When thinking in wider terms I suppose that all of us find it hard not to he anecodotal, but I can think of cases in which men have said to me when I visited them in prison, "I do not think I ought to come out yet; I do not think that I deserve to come out yet". I can think of a follow-up to that. A particular probation officer—a man of great experience as well as strong Christian conviction—was helping a man who had been in prison for a serious crime to come to terms with himself and to forgive himself as a necessary adjunct to being able to find a forgiveness from God and then forgiveness within society. I will not go further with that story because I think I shall be in danger of opening up unnecessary confidentialities, but it had a very happy ending.

Therefore it is very practical to keep before us the fact that the probation service has always had this historical Christian line running through it, and I hope it always will. I think that this will be even more difficult as we liberalise our care for those who have been offenders within the community. Our probation service is supported by the Government and obviously by funds. As the noble Earl has made plain to us, it is actually much cheaper to care for an offender when he is beyond that point by a community-type of care rather than by custodial care. So we would be helping the Government to save money—which I think will appeal immensely to the noble Lord the Minister—by pressing upon him the need to increase the probation service so that there can be more community work.

I have one last point to make and, again, I pick up what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said when he spoke of the non-criminal courts. Probation officers have told me that they are becoming more and more involved in divorce, in the break-up of families and in care cases, which is the custody of and access to children. In fact, in our part of the world we are seeking to work on a system whereby on a Saturday we offer the services of church people to take the children from one estranged parent to the other estranged parent at the very point where the parents cannot bring themselves to get the children from A to B. The work of caring for those children and both the parents having the right and proper access to them is very difficult and we seek to provide "godfathers" and "godmothers" in that area.

But however much voluntary work is done, there is a sense in which we still have to rely upon our probation service to do the main work. Our officers have told me of the need to stress again the sanctity not only of human life but of marriage and family life, because they know in practice, and we know in theory, that where there are broken homes, like it or not, children are at risk. This is not the time to discuss that at length, but it is another of the matters that we press upon our probation service.

I like to visit Norwich Prison on Christmas Day as well as on other days in the year. I celebrate Communion and then I go on to visit the youngsters at their remand centre. I give them Christmas cards and meet them all and receive glorious hisses when I say that Norwich City Football Club is the finest in the world, because all the youngsters who come to Norwich from elsewhere have the chance of hissing at me during the sermon. It is good for them to let off steam. A year or so ago on Christmas Day I asked who was the youngest there. I was told that there was a 16-year old and two 15-year olds. I asked the governor whether it would be possible—with of course proper permission from the courts—to place those three boys in secure homes for Christmas Day, and return them the following day, with responsibility being taken for them. He said, "Maybe, but we cannot send them back to their own homes because those three boys have no homes and have been in care for most of their lives".

That brought home to me this business of the care of children, the sanctity of the home and the fact that there is a sense in which our probation officers are being brought into these tragedies. Therefore there is a sense in which we not only have gently to chide probation officers if they appear to be acting unwisely or even irrationally, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has rightly done, but in which we have to support them, because they are our representatives in a pretty real and murky world. I am sure that much of what is being said in this debate will be of encouragement to them. I am grateful to the noble Earl for making it possible for us to debate this matter, and we look forward immensely and with interest to hearing what the noble Lord the Minister has to say to us.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords. I am sorry I am separating the right reverend Prelate from my noble friend Lord Soper. There was a mistake on the list. I also should like to thank my noble friend Lord Longford for initiating this debate. I remember his encouragement to me many years ago when I made my maiden speech in this House, and that was on penal reform at that time. I do not think I need in this debate to be very long on the state of our prisons. It is only too well known, and we are concerned with a rather different subject, although obviously one cannot avoid saying something about the prisons.

It is true that many of those in prison are in fact rather pathetic human beings whose offending stems often from personal disorganisation and their own troubled lifestyle. There are also of course still those who are imprisoned for quite petty offences. The tragedy of many prisoners is that they become recidivist. Perhaps it was not so in the particular case referred to when the right reverend Prelate was talking about prisoners who thought that it was not yet right for them to come out, but I found in my experience as a prison visitor and lecturer at Holloway Prison that there were a certain number of people who found the prison almost a sort of womb and somewhere which cosseted them, perhaps not in a particularly pleasant way but it took away the responsibility and need of making decisions. That is why the repetitious sentencing of petty offenders is meaningless, wasteful, and completely counter-productive.

I also learned from my experience of Holloway that if there is any deterrent in a prison sentence it is usually in the first sentence, and possibly in only the first few days of that sentence. It is the initial shock. Many of the women, and certainly some of the young girls, were quite ready to tell me that. For that reason alone it must be clear that imprisonment must be the disposal of last resort. As my noble friend and other speakers pointed out, there are unfortunately offenders whose crimes are serious enough, if they are crimes of violence, who will have to be sent to prison. But it must be at last resort and for the most serious of crimes, because if it is an ace in the penal hand it can be played effectively only once.

The problems with which the Government are faced will not he solved by a massive building programme for the prison estate. I am quite sure that the Minister realises that. It is irrelevant to assuage our consciences by merely ensuring that those who are imprisoned are properly accommodated, as yet again even in the most modern of prisons there remains a strong likelihood, some say even a certainty, that what we shall be doing is introducing more modern and better equipped universities of crime.

To remove an offender from his community, to place him in prison, return him later to fractured or broken relationships, to a community in which he will find no employment, in a society which will not be sympathetic to his plight, is a sure-fire recipe for that offender to continue his offending behaviour, simply because by then he has little else to lose. For these reasons it is imperative that, wherever possible, offenders are dealt with in the community, as my noble friend and other noble Lords who have spoken so far have said, so that their family and social ties may be preserved, and their chances of finding employment, however limited unfortunately these days those chances are, may be preserved or even improved, and so that the institutional experience is avoided.

In order to achieve such a wholly desirable end the Government—and I say his, I know, with the support of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and I am sure the speakers who follow me—must look to the probation service for the provision of community-based alternatives to custody, and also, I would add, to crime prevention, in which many probation officers are not involved, by involvement in the broader based community initiatives. For example, in the inner cities. This again is a question of time, resources, and personnel.

In the process of dealing with offenders there is, of course, an earlier stage of involvement for the probation service, and that is the preparation of social inquiry reports, to which my noble friend referred. As a magistrate I am very aware of the vital and unique importance of social inquiry reports. I find it is the most important tool of our work in order for us to make decisions. My noble friend Lord Longford gave an excellent example of the way in which the preparation of such reports may assist the court in making a non-custodial disposal.

As a result of the Criminal Justice Act the court must consider now the social inquiry reports before imposing a custodial sentence on anyone under 21, and similarly for those who have not had previous prison sentences a report has to he made, or the reasons stated. The estimated national cost of this is £200,000. This is in addition to all the reports which are asked for on all other occasions. I am quite sure that I am not the only magistrate who does this, but many of us ask the probation officer whether he knows of anything that will be helpful to the bench when we are discussing somebody, and a certain amount of communication takes place even before the asking for an official report. I should like to see this work expanded even further.

Yet what can we do when the service has not got the resources on which to base a non-custodial recommendation, even where you can stretch them sufficiently to prepare a report on any occasion which requires it? Increasingly the avenues to non-custodial disposals are becoming culs-de-sac. Like the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I understand that in many areas—for example the three I know, Cumbria, South London and Manchester—the probation service is having to operate a quota system for community service orders. Inevitably any quota system will mean that some persons will go to prison who would not have done so if there had been adequate facilities in the area and the necessary resources.

I find it difficult to over-estimate the value of community service orders. When they can be properly applied, when there are the resources and the proper work for people to do, they really give us an alternative, which it is a great pity is not being used more and which is having to be restricted because of lack of funds. Then there is the actual outcome; the things that are achieved in my area. I was at a probation liaison committee meeting this morning, and we had a report from our local community service officer. All the things that had been done in the way of decorating, making a community centre out of a building owned by the YMCA, restoring another building which will be used as a special centre for alcoholics, helping those with a handicap, were positive, constructive occupations. They make the offenders themselves feel they are contributing to something, and help to recreate their own self-respect, as well as being of infinite value to the community. But to be done properly it needs careful and specialised supervision. It is a question of deciding where resources are badly needed.

At the present time community service orders are used in only 4 per cent. of indictable offences. Under the Criminal Justice Act they are now available for 16-year-olds as well, but only 12 out of the 56 probation areas have yet introduced the scheme. We have not done so yet in my area in Middlesex, or I think indeed in Middlesex at all. As noble Lords have pointed out, to do it properly the estimated cost would be £1 million a year.

The probation service stands as a symbol of social responsibility and humanity, and we need it now more than we have ever needed it before. But if it is to be a substantial service it must have a wide range of options to back it up. It is not only a question, which is time and energy consuming, of communication and the person-to-person talking and working out of problems with the individuals. What the service needs is to be backed so that it can find accommodation; and so that we are not left in this dreadful position of having to remand people in custody because we have not a viable alternative—when we feel badly about it and know it is wrong.

The service needs to be backed by remedial places available for alcoholics and drug addicts. It needs to be backed by day centres. Here, again, this has not yet been done in Middlesex because of a lack of resources. All this would reduce the numbers remanded in custody and would be a positive step in trying to deal with delinquency. We also need the probation service to offer proper and thorough care to those who have to be imprisoned, and we need it to inform us of the needs, in prison, of those we have imprisoned.

I hope the Minister does not believe that the small growth which has been allocated to the service leaves it all square. It certainly does not. In the first instance, the Government have failed so far to provide the service with the resources to cover the implications of the Criminal Justice Act 1982, which requires not only the extra social inquiry reports and the community service orders to which I have referred, but which also includes the negative conditions which some of us tried to remove from the Bill at the time, as the noble Lord the Minister may remember, though I believe his colleague was sitting in his place then. A curfew, and the condition not to go to certain places, all need monitoring and supervision.

Secondly, if we are to retain the high quality and calibre of the service for the future with no diminution in the quality of its work, we have to be particularly careful about our treatment and selection of those who train to be probation officers. I think that in announcing their intention to reduce the pay of trainee probation officers by up to 25 per cent. the Government have created much trouble, anxiety and antagonism—for what? I gather that the saving is about £90,000 in one year and £250,000 over three years. It is such a drop in the ocean, and the effect of it is so strong and so bad, that one can understand the very deep sense of aggrievement felt by the probation officers. I understand that police cadets' pay is higher. Trainee probation officers are, on the whole, people of a higher age range than that at which people normally come into social welfare work, even. Many of them are in their late twenties when they come into probation work.

I hope that we shall hear from the Minister this evening a positive commitment to an essential and constructive service: a commitment that the service will be properly funded so that it can be expanded to meet the ever-growing demands for effective responses to offenders. I understand that the Home Office is at present engaged with the service organisations in reviewing the role and future of the probation service. Again, I should like to know from the Minister how far this exercise has gone. I should also like to feel that the Government take the view which I and, I imagine, everybody who has spoken or will be speaking in this debate will take, and that is that dedication should not be financially exploited. If people are caring people I do not think it is right to take financial advantage of them. We have seen that in other professions, and it is a blot on our social and human landscape.

The problem with the funding is that the metropolitan authorities, particularly outside London, are very reliant on the contribution made by the local authorities. However sympathetic local authorities are, they have been penalised by the sanction on the so-called high spenders which is hitting the probation service; and although the will is there, the funds are no longer. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to say this evening—I say this seriously—that the 1 per cent. growth in real terms, which is the figure that has been mooted so far for 1984-85, has now been recognised as being totally inadequate, and that he will be able to tell us that the figure will be something much nearer 3 per cent. than 1 per cent. I would hope to have seen it at 5 per cent. But, that may be pushing it a little too far. But, certainly 1 per cent. is quite unrealistic.

I suggest that the Government must ask themselves: what do we want our probation service to do? Do we want it to mark time or to move forward? If it is to move forward, it is moving forward in a period when there is an expanding clientele from the ranks of the unemployed. Unemployment is rising all the time. I have school-leavers coming into my court, as all magistrates have. One asks the defendant, "What are you doing?" and the answer comes, "Unemployed." "How long have you been unemployed?"—"Since I left school." these youngsters are 18, 19 and 20, and so one has young people who have been unemployed for 3 or 4 years, who have never had a job since they left school.

In our rapidly changing society we are now in the age of electronic revolution. Even when unemployment starts to recede, as we all hope it will, there will still be a decade when the youngsters leaving school will be unable to get jobs until we come to terms with this new form of society. In the meantime it is essential that creative activities and constructive projects should be available to them; otherwise, we shall create generations of lost people, many of whom will become delinquents.

The investment must be considerable to make an impact because the probation service, as well as acting on its own, acts as a broker between the voluntary agencies and its clients. About 5,600 probation officers is a very small force, and it is quite remarkable what it achieves. It is not an enormous investment that one is asking for, but it is one the need for which economically, socially and in human terms, we cannot afford to ignore.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Soper

My Lords, the backcloth of this debate is the prevalence of crime of various kinds and the indubitable increase of this particular malevolence, behaviour and practice. Separated as I have been on the list of speakers, I am, nevertheless, in complete agreement with my noble and ecclesiastical friend the right reverend Prelate that this is pre-eminently a moral issue. Being a moral issue, your Lordships will perhaps allow me to comment very briefly on one or two aspects that were presented by the right reverend Prelate. It so happens that my father was one of the first to take part in this particular enterprise many years ago, and I remember with affection and a very great respect the kind of attitude that he not only shared with those who took part in that same kind of activity, but was generously shared by the Church. We are often accused of being irrelevant. This was an occasion on which we were probably the advance guard of an essential element in the custodianship of virtue or, at any rate, the prevention of crime.

Coming as I do hot foot from the Methodist Conference, I bring to your Lordships from that august assembly the general and enthusiastic commendation of the general intention of this debate. I came from the conference only this morning and I am able to convey that message.

I am very grateful indeed to my noble friend Lord Longford for introducing into this debate the general application of what we believe to he a civilised society to the prevalence of crime, the insistence that the probation service is a practical and efficient method of doing some of the things which are imperative if we are to stem that increase.

I hope that the House will not regard this as cynical, but I confess myself somewhat perturbed at the coincidence of the events of the past week politically and the emergence, re-emergence or resuscitation of the clamour for capital punishment. I regard this as retrograde and therefore come with a greater comfort to a debate of this kind which seems to me to offer a much more reasonable—and, indeed, a much more Christian—approach to the problem which I confess and recognise as being extremely dangerous and liable to become more dangerous. I will not rehearse what has already been said so eloquently and so efficiently by other speakers. I shall endeavour to extrapolate from some of the general considerations, one or two of those matters which, to me, take pride of place; and I cannot but begin where I have begun many times before, by deploring that most dangerous of all the elements in the present custodial system: the fact that in many a cell built all too small for one person to inhabit there are two or three people. This is an abomination.

I have seen in my own background of social work the permanent effects of this kind of incarceration in circumstances which are deplorable morally, disgracefully emotionally, and in many cases temperamentally almost conclusively bad. If there is anything that can be done to reduce the population of our overcrowded prisons then, if there are no other reasons to prevent it being done, let it be done and let it be done quickly—because you are cursing (with a great many youngsters, in particular) the whole prospect of a future life when they emerge from such incarceration. I ask the House to believe that I am not speaking sentimentally but out of some experience of the intolerable conditions under which many people in prisons are now compelled to live in the crowded —nay, overcrowded—situation of the multiple-occupation cell.

If by this increase and expansion of the services that we call the probation services we can reduce the number of inhabitants of prisons, we shall have done something which in itself, quite apart from the overcrowding of the cells, is to be welcomed. I do not believe in the prison service. I recognise how many gallant and splendid people are involved in its procedures and who endeavour to do the best they can for it. I have said before and I will not weary your Lordships with repetition that my own conviction, as a chaplain over the years and as one who is in constant touch with these things, is that the whole prison service is itself degrading and, though it may well be that for the time being there is nothing very much better that we can do, anything in the realm of probation service which can alleviate the conditions—even to some small extent—anything which can lead towards another kind of semi-custodial treatment for those who have gone astray—and have gone very far astray—must be preferred, particularly to the block system of our more 19th century prisons such as Pentonville, Wandsworth, and others.

Therefore, I welcome anything which can be done in this field and urge upon the Government that here is, from prudential as well as moral standpoints, the opportunity to put more money into the kind of effort which, I believe, will have a cumulative effect not only in reducing the number of prisoners but in providing a very much larger expectation of wellbeing for those who, in other forms of incarceration, semiincarceration or treatment by the probation services, will have a very much better chance of recovering from the iniquities in which they have been involved, and becoming responsible members of society all over again.

May I make one point here which has not yet been raised and which I think is very important. A criticism which is very often missed in the condemnation of the prison system is its basic artificiality. The longer a man is incarcerated in a prison, the less he becomes acquainted with, and acceptable to, the society to which he must necessarily return unless he is going to be put in prison for life. The artificiality of the prison service, however benevolent those who try to operate it are, is, in my judgment and in the experience which has come my way, a very poor and a very dangerous method of so conditioning those who are within its walls. They will find it very much harder (when at some time in the future they are released) when finding themselves in the real world to find their ability to live in that real world.

That is perhaps the greatest of all the virtues which belong to the Probation Service: that it keeps the criminal within the framework of the real society in which. finally—unless, as I say, he is imprisoned for life; which is a totally unacceptable penalty, in my judgment—he must return. It gives him the chance of keeping in touch with that world in which, sooner or later, he will have to find his place again. This has been a very interesting debate, a great many points have been made and I will not rehearse them; but I want to make an appeal for the Probation Service itself. I can think of nothing which is more demanding than for a probation officer to endeavour to deal with a rebellious youth of about 19 who has not had a job since he left school, who has had practically no relationship or contact with the Christian Churches; who has probably lost, temporarily at least, the dimension between right and wrong—and I have found many youngsters like that. I find that. in London—so the evidence has come to me—the workload has increased individually for every probation officer by about 10 per cent. over the past three years. What is more, 50 per cent. of those who are under the probation service are aged under 21.

I cannot imagine anything more difficult than that the probation officer should be able to give enough time and enough expertise to this intensely personal problem unless he is much better supported than he is now. It is in that regard that the simple and most effective beginning to that support is a large increase of resources; that he can be better trained; and that he can be put into closer relationship with other voluntary organisations. Above all, he should feel the dignity that is given by the sense that what is offered by him is recognised and valued by the community.

It is in that regard that I take comfort in the prospect of the expansion of this particular service. I believe that it is the best available method within the possible future of (shall we say?) the next 20 or 30 years, of so improving the prospects of rehabilitation and recovery, as well as the need, so to punish as to recognise the basic principles of civilised life. I believe that this expansion, above everything else, is to be regarded with anticipation and hope. Once again, may I finish by thanking my noble friend Lord Longford for reintroducing this problem for perhaps the ninth or tenth time, and reintroducing it with a livelier hope that this time there may be even better results.

7 p.m.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, if I were now sitting on the Bench occupied by the noble Lord the Minister—which, I am thankful to say, I am not—I think that I should be asking myself whether everything that needed to be said has not already been said and whether it is strictly necessary to continue. I know the Minister is a more patient and charitable man than I am. I am asking the same question of myself as I rise to speak. I promise to be strictly practical and to avoid the moral issues. I think three dissertations of a moral nature might be too much, for myself at any rate, much as I have enjoyed the speeches that I have heard.

The noble Viscount Lord Whitelaw, when speaking in the other place in December last described the policy of the Government in regard to the probation service as being—and I quote—"to provide convincing alternatives to custody". I have pulled out that quotation simply to lay stress on the word "convincing". It is axiomatic that if a major shift is to be made from the use of custody by the courts to alternatives in the community, it is the courts which have to be convinced; and they will not be convinced unless adequate resources are provided for the probation and after-care service.

Like other speakers, including my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich—and we have not colluded in this matter at all—I have made inquiries of a number of chief probation officers as well as of the National Association of Probation Officers, who, as I think they would agree, represent in the main the main grade officers. The chief probation officers and NAPO very often do not speak with an identical voice, but on this issue they are unanimous that the provision planned by the Government for the increase in the service in the next few years is totally inadequate. My noble friend Lord Harris has chided me as regards the National Association of Probation Officers and I hope he will not mind if, in the same sense as the right reverend Prelate, I give them a word of commendation. I think that the document prepared by NAPO, The Case for Growth, is excellent. It makes the case succinctly and convincingly and it is in the best tradition of that association speaking in its professional capacity.

The points in support of growth for the probation service beyond that 1 per cent. which is planned for this year and the next year have mostly been covered already. I should now like to make a few allied points. The point has been made about the sheer quantity of present work and the increase in the use of probation orders that has gone up by 29 per cent. There has been an increase in the use of community service orders, which we all enormously welcome and regard as most significant, to the tune of something like 80 per cent. between 1979 and 1982.

The point I want to make is that in regard to the future increase in community service orders and their application to 16 year-olds—the noble Baroness and my noble friend told us that there is already a hold-up in that development and it is deplorable—it is common ground in the whole service, no matter whether it is a chief probation officer or a main grade officer, that these youngsters are going to require closer supervision in carrying out those orders than is generally the case at present for older offenders. That means that the quality and quantity of the work is going to increase.

With regard to probation officers, I should like to quote the words of the chief probation officer for Lincolnshire, the officers of whose service are carrying the fourth highest caseload in England and Wales. Referring to the fact that there is not a sufficient increase in the service, he writes this: This fact produces pressures against recommending more orders to the courts. We reckon we require five more officers in 1983 to bring caseloads near to the national average". He goes on to say: The 1 per cent. growth limits our increase to less than half of one officer". If taken literally, that conjures up a most titillating temptation for a cartoonist.

Turning to a point which has not been dealt with, if, as we all hope, parole is to be increased by lowering the threshold of eligibility for parole—I understand it is to be nine months—this will add a further 2,000 parolees to a probation officer's caseload. The point is that many of those parolees will be more difficult offenders in the community to handle than is the case at present. Probation officers are already—this point has been made—handling increasingly difficult offenders, and over a decade or more the number of those who receive probation orders as first offenders has steadily declined. From Cambridgeshire I have a significant figure to show that that greatest increase in difficult clients has speeded up in the last two or three years between the national figure of 23 per cent. of those who were first offenders in 1979 and received probation orders to only 15 per cent. in 1982. That means, in penal jargon, that clients have moved up-tariff: they have become more difficult people to manage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, mentioned project work and the value and importance of this. That is becoming increasingly recognised, as the results come through. It means that most offenders involved in group programmes are working in groups. You might think that means less work, but on the contrary it means more intensive and higher quality work. There is the finding, planning, and setting up of a whole variety of different projects. There is the complex and often costly business of providing equipment and premises, and there is the very important need to collaborate with the other agencies in running these projects and in eliciting support from the community.

Reports to the courts—this point has again been made—have increased substantially and, under the terms of the new Act, chief officers I have consulted estimate that the social inquiry reports required before any young offender is committed to custody will cause a further 16 per cent. increase in the reporting to the courts. It is true that the new Act will result in shorter periods of supervision; but there are two points to be made. One is the not unlikely circumstance that the courts will impose more short sentences to give short tastes of custody, referred to by the right reverend Prelate, with, I think, something approaching approval. Therefore, there will be more people to be supervised when they come out for more intensive periods, even though they are shorter.

My last point, which I picked up from chief probation officers, is the most important. It is the fact that all this diverse work and the many other tasks—whether they stem from the criminal courts in which probation officers are involved, day in and day out in unsocial hours—severely limit the time needed to review the work they have been doing and to look ahead. I will quote a cri de coeur from the chief probation officer in my own county of Berkshire, who writes as follows: Now more than ever all of us feel starved of thinking and planning time. We have no spare capacity". I should like to end with one more quote—and I make no apology for using these quotes because they come from the proverbial horse's mouth and should carry more weight than any words of my own. Several chief officers have told me that they may not be able to operate new schemes, as has already been said, for the time being because they lack resources. I should like to quote the chief probation officer for Cambridgeshire, who says this: I am bombarded with demands for the service to initiate a conciliation scheme". My Lords, who would quarrel about the importance of such a scheme? She goes on to say: The only way of meeting such demands is to shift resources from work with crime". The Government's reply to the Question of the noble Earl, Lord Longford—and I should like belatedly to thank him for putting it down—will be seen, at any rate by me, as a test of the sincerity and good faith of the Government and of their intention or otherwise to match their words by deeds, by increasing the establishment and making more adequate financial provision for the probation service.

At the end of the debate on home and social affairs two nights ago, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said: the probation service…is a vital and constructive element in the criminal justice system".—[Official Report, 28/6/83; col. 234.] I would add that that element has never been so important as it is today. I predict that the services which maintain law and order, to whose support the Government have committed themselves in the Queen's Speech, will be under severe strain in the next few years. It is quite certain that the strain will increase, if the Government fail to heed the warning plea uttered from their Back-Benches in another place last night. On those grounds, I hope that the Government will think again about the planned 1 per cent. increase for the probation service.

7.11 p.m.

Lord Kagan

My Lords, I shall endeavour to be very brief, and I shall not detain your Lordships more than is necessary. I shall certainly endeavour not to repeat anything that has already been said, and better said. May I draw attention to one aspect—the relationship between prison officers and probation officers? I come back to the Dutch example. When a Dutchman applies for a job in the prison service, he has to pass an exam which will qualify him almost totally for the probation service. If he does not qualify for that, they will not accept him in the prison service. In other words, in Holland a prison officer is potentially a probation officer. In our prison system they are segregated by the rules, and a prison officer is in breach of the rules if he establishes a relationship with a prisoner. The prison officer is purely a disciplinary officer. I know that in a small number of establishments an experiment has started to change that. But if we took an example from the Dutch and, in the training of a prison officer, introduced the same standards, it would, first, upgrade the standards of the prison officer, and, secondly, it would enable a prisoner to establish a relationship after prison through the probation service.

Although I certainly cannot disagree with any of my noble friends about the increased use of resources, I think that a change of attitude towards the probation service, in the direction of involving voluntary assistance from the community, would help. We have a prison population of 40,000 people and we have 50 million people living in this country. If one in 1,000 adopted a prisoner and took a continuing interest in him, that man's re-entry into the community, which my noble friend described so eloquently and which is so necessary, would have a much better chance than now. It is true to say that when a prisoner is released and is left to his own resources under the present system he is almost condemned to a return to crime. The involvement of the community and voluntary assistance to the probation service, which could be organised under the supervision of the probation service, would not cost a lot of extra money and would be very cost-effective.

In France, the prison population has been reduced by one-quarter. What is most significant, the churches are encouraged to play a much bigger part in the prison system. In the prison in Paris they have keys, they can walk about and there is a very personal relationship. The Dutch, too are proceeding on similar lines. I am sure that, with co-operation between the churches and the probation service, volunteers could be recruited to expand the activities of the probation service without a tremendous increase in costs. I should have thought that the inspectorate of prisons, which is independent, would be in the best position to look at what is being done abroad (where, admittedly, they do such things better) and to apply them here. I do not want to detain your Lordships any longer.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Wilson of Langside

My Lords, I want to say just a brief word about the Scottish dimension of this problem. I do not know whether I succeed in showing it, but when your Lordships are considering a problem which has a different shape, or perhaps somewhat different aspects, as between Scotland and England, I am always reluctant to raise the Scottish dimension partly because (as I have said before, perhaps to the point of tedium) I am a great believer in the Anglo-Scottish symbiosis. When, in discussions in your Lordships' House and perhaps in the other place as well, one produces the Scottish dimension, one presents the Minister concerned, and perhaps one's colleagues, with something of a distraction which may be irritating, particularly for the Minister. He has enough to think of in the English dimension without these wretched people from the North introducing a new element. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has no responsibility for the Scottish situation, and I did somewhat belatedly, because I had not thought to take part in this debate, inform the Scottish Office yesterday that I would raise some of the problems which are peculiar to that country.

The Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, which was enacted by a Government of which I was a member and of which we were very proud, was, we thought, an imaginative and constructive measure. It made radical changes in the probation service in the North. I must confess—and I take no joy in the thought—that I did not foresee the very serious problems that it would present for the operation of the probation service up there.

What the Act did, as I am sure most of your Lordships know, was, first, to take children out of the criminal courts. Those aged 16, plus some aged between 16 and 18, were taken out of the criminal courts unless they were taken there on the instructions of the Lord Advocate—and they were the exceptional cases. Secondly, the Act set up children's panels to deal with the cases which had previously gone to the criminal juvenile courts. The duties of the probation officer, statutory and otherwise, were transferred to the social work departments of the local authorities, and the probation officers were absorbed into the social work departments as generic social workers.

The immediate effects of this change when it came into operation—I do not say so far as the children's panels are concerned, because I am not informed on their operation and they may have been satisfactory; and I must emphasise that in the less densely populated rural areas the situation continued to be satisfactory—certainly in Glasgow, where I worked, and I think in other parts of the densely populated central belt, were, if not disastrous, extremely disturbing.

I am not going to pretend that it was the golden age of the probation service in Glasgow in the 1950s and 1960s, when I was there, but we had a very good working service and we had a first-class working relationship between the bench and the probation officers. It may be that we did not sit until 10 o'clock in the morning and that we rose not very long after 4 o'clock, but both before we sat and after we rose, more often than not, we were engaged from the bench in discussions with probation officers. If the probationers were young (or even if they were old) we sometimes had discussions with them, too, about the progress they were making. If they were young probationers, their parents might be there. This was part of our job.

Of course, the probation officers' case loads were far too large. This I well remember. We used to ask, "What can you do with a case load like that?" It was a perennial problem, but at least we were all working as a team. We came to know one another. One came to know the strong probation officers and the weaknesses of others—and no doubt they came to know our strengths and weaknesses, too. We learned from one another in a continuing and valuable working relationship in the Glasgow courts, where the problems were greatest.

All that pretty well went by the board when the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 came into operation, so far as these busy criminal courts were concerned. Remember, I am not saying that this applied to children's panels, because I am talking about the criminal courts. I am not suggesting that this applied all over the country, either, but it did apply where the problems were the most serious.

Matters were then complicated by local government reorganisation. The vast Strathclyde region took in almost half the population of Scotland and was responsible for social work. Before, if one had a problem, one could lift the telephone and speak to the individual probation officer or the head of the social work department without great difficulty. But with this immense Strathclyde region one was up against all the problems of bureaucracy. I am not criticising the people there, because they were trying hard. They knew that there were problems, but arranging a meeting to discuss them became a major exercise.

We worked away at this problem. For a long time I thought that the best thing we could do was to revert to the old set-up and take probation back to being a separate service. I believe there are still some sheriffs who think that; but, today. I do not believe this would be the answer. On reflection, I do not believe it would be sensible to attempt to put the clock back; but something effective must be done.

I was last involved in 1977, when matters had got much better; but there were still shortcomings, due to a lack of resources. There were still shortcomings; and although matters have much improved since then they still have not returned to the point they had reached, so far as effective working is concerned, before the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 was brought into operation. This, at least, I am told.

This is a very unhappy situation. I had some responsibility, although it was not departmental responsibility, for the Social Work (Scotland) Act, so I am not just blaming other people. We ought to have foreseen these problems and have taken steps to ensure that matters did not go this way. Obviously a great many people have been working very hard to get it right, including many devoted probation officers who are now social workers. But still more has to he done, and they cannot do it on their own; and nor can it be done by the sheriffs on the bench. Although other courts are involved, it is the sheriff courts in Scotland which really count in this context.

The Secretary of State for Scotland has a dual responsibility under two heads in this respect, because, first, he is responsible for giving guidance on the way in which the social work departments of local authorities should operate, and that is under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. He is also responsible, under the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971, for the speedy and efficient disposal of business in the sheriff courts. To some extent that is tied up with an efficient and effective probation service.

It is not for me to suggest how the Secretary, of State for Scotland should deal with this matter, but he needs to take a look at it. He might wish to put this question to the Advisory Council on Social Work under the 1968 Act; it might be for them to look at this matter and to advise and guide him. But everyone must be consulted—not just the directors of social work and not just the local authorities, but also those who sit on the bench, the sheriffs and the sheriffs principal. They must be asked to give their views in order that the resources which they say they need—and this affects community service orders, in particular, in Scotland, as well as everywhere else—may be put at their disposal.

7.27 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, we are all most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for providing an opportunity to discuss the role of the probation service. By casting his speech as a plea to take steps to reduce pressure of numbers on Britain's prison service, the noble Earl chose a theme with which he could be sure of my closest attention. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, came in with the same rythmn but in a different key, if I may so put it, with the subject of prisoners in police and court cells—another subject very close to my concern. The right reverend Prelate—contrapuntally perhaps—reminded us that punishment and even imprisonment can be seen as being just, and even constructive, by those who undergo it, and made it clear that that view is consistent with the passion that motivates the probation service itself.

The reverend Lord, Lord Soper, returned, fortissimo, to the noble Earl's theme and asserted that imprisonment is never a suitable sentence, and I only wish that I could agree with him there. Perhaps I ought at this stage to abandon these musical metaphors and merely thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for a speech full of direct representations from the field, to which I will refer but which I and my honourable friend will read with great interest and respect tomorrow, although the noble Lord may feel that I do it less than justice tonight.

The noble Earl's own speech and the whole debate make very clear the extremely high regard in which we hold the probation service. The Government share that regard, and we are fully committed to furthering the work of the probation service. It is not a large service compared with others in the criminal justice system, such as the police or the prison service, but it has developed a role of an importance out of all proportion to its size; it makes a major contribution to the way in which society deals with its offending members.

The probation service makes a contribution by providing information and advice to assist the courts in sentencing; by operating a wide range of facilities which afford alternatives to custody and which seek to divert offenders from criminal careers; by assisting prisoners to cope constructively with their problems while in custody; by helping them to prepare for their own release, and after their release to make as successful an adjustment to ordinary life as they can. There is no doubt about the importance of the work of the service in dealing with the problem of crime.

Before we look at the future, let us look first of all at the practical support which is already given to the probation service, and which the noble Earl and many others find inadequate. As your Lordships will know, the main expenditure of the service is met by 80 per cent. specific grant from central Government. The other 20 per cent. is the responsibility of local authorities; and that 20 per cent. is of course grant-related expenditure and ranks for block grant which also originates from the Treasury and not from the ratepayer. In addition to this Government funding of current account expenditure, the Home Office also initially meets the full cost of purchase, adaptation and equipment of premises for use as probation and bail hostels. Only 20 per cent. of this is recovered from local authorities. It is paid by means of flat rate payments spread over 20 years. The salaries of probation officers working in prisons are met in full by central Government. In addition, the Home Office has allocated £5 million in 1983-84 for accommodation and day care schemes in the voluntary sector. That gives the proportions and the origins of the money.

We are, as the House knows full well, living in times of necessary restraint in public expenditure, and your Lordships are well enough aware after yesterday's debate of the reasons for this and I will not repeat them. But I ask noble Lords to remember that that is the context of what has been done in recent years. In that context we should consider whether the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is right to refer in such disparaging terms to what has been done. Between June 1979 and December 1982 the number of administrative and clerical staff increased by nearly 10 per cent.; the number of probation officers increased by over 10 per cent.; and the number of ancillary workers rose by over 36 per cent.

In 1982 alone 130 additional probation officers and 133 additional ancillaries were recruited. There is provision for further growth in this financial year which is estimated to enable the recruitment of a further 100 probation officers and a further 125 ancillaries. The law and order services of the police, prisons and probation service have not been exempt from the search for economies; but I think it is fair to say that the priority which the last Government attached to them has been reflected in the resources they have been allocated.

It might also be noted that relative to its size the probation service has grown more rapidly in the past five years than either the police or the prison service. That is an emphasis which some of your Lordships will find surprisingly welcome. While the precise extent of provision for growth has necessarily been variable over those years, the fact of growth has been constant. That is hardly an example of short-sighted niggardliness; nor, in the noble Baroness's phrase, marking time.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, if I may intervene, I will interrupt the noble Lord only once. He will no doubt be saying something about the increase in crime which has gone ahead very rapidly during this period. This generosity of the Government hardly matches the increase in crime.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am so glad that the noble Earl is restricting himself to a single interruption this evening. I am perfectly happy to concede that crime has indeed increased markedly over this period, and of course a great deal of effort by the Government has been directed towards coping with the results and trying to reduce it. The noble Earl is right to strike a balance which he is afraid I might neglect.

Of course, one can always argue for more. The reverend Lord, Lord Soper, did so in absolute and global terms, while the noble Lord, Lord Harris, was rather more particular. The National Association of Probation Officers have the best—and I should emphasise the most respectable—reasons for doing so, and they have not been idle in this respect. In a recent letter to my right honourable friend they asserted that the growth in the number of probation officers, which they put at 3.9 per cent., does not match a 29 per cent. increase in the number of probation orders. A number of your Lordships have reflected a similar mathematical approach. I ought to point out first of all quite simply that the actual increase in the number of officers between December 1979 and December 1982 was in fact 6 per cent. and not 3.9 per cent.

I would also make this further comment, which is in no way contentious but is also simply a matter of fact: anyone is entitled to make the best use of statistics and that goes for the Government as well as anybody else. Part of the art is choosing the base line which throws up the most striking movement in the direction that you wish to illustrate. In saying there has been a 29 per cent. increase in probation orders, but only an increase of 3.9 per cent. (or more exactly 6 per cent.) in probation officers, the National Association of Probation Officers have very sensibly fixed their baseline in the period from December 1979 to December 1982.

If we go back only a little further and consider the whole decade of 1972 to 1982, we find that both figures are rather different. The overall increase of probation officers was not 6 per cent. but over 40 per cent., and the increase in probation orders was not 29 per cent. but under 10 per cent. It could even be said that on some occasions growth actually outstripped workload. It is quite evident from that that I am not seeking to make a political point, but I am making a statistical one.

But none of that is meant to belittle either the quality, which is admirable, or the volume, which is considerable, of the work which probation officers are doing. Nor do I wish to suggest that their association is obstructively contentious on the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked what I had to say—I do not know why I have interpolated it here, but it is the way the speech is constructed as one goes along—about his idea that I should go to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and ask for some of his Vote for my department's duties. I can barely say more than that I should just like to hear what my noble and learned friend himself would have to say. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, is familiar with the methods of Government. He is making a serious point and it is one that I will certainly take on board and reflect on. As always, one is put in boxes when considering money, and very often the divisions between the boxes come in an inconvenient place. The noble Lord suggested there should be communication between the two compartments.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that he will look into this point with his right honourable friend, and I hope with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I was not suggesting that the Home Office should ask the Lord Chancellor for money to carry out their responsibilities. I was suggesting the Lord Chancellor, department made a contribution to the Vote so far as this aspect is concerned because the probation service is fulfilling his department's responsibilities.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I shall try to advance the case with the greatest tact available to me. As I said, I am not suggesting that the association have been obstructively contentious on the subject of finance, or, indeed, of running the service. Quite the contrary: I should like to say how helpful we have found the association's paper already referred to, Probation: A Case for Growth. A preliminary examination of it was included in a wide-ranging discussion at the Home Office between senior officials and senior representatives of the association about the future of the probation service. This was part of a series of such discussions that officials are having with organisations representing the service.

That meeting, and a subsequent meeting of the Standing Committee on Probation Manpower Needs, on which the National Association of Probation Officers, chief officers and probation committees are all represented, proved valuable both in clearing the way for further talks on where the emphasis of probation work should be placed in the years ahead and in considering possible resource needs in the more immediate future. On this last point, your Lordships will understand that, given the discussions about to take place within the framework of the annual public expenditure survey, I must hold myself in check.

Let me now refer to the ways in which we have developed the role of the probation service by recent legislation. Two of the main aims of the Criminal Justice Act 1982 were to provide courts with more flexible powers in dealing with offenders and to provide community-based alternatives to custody wherever they were appropriate. The probation service clearly has an important, indeed a crucial, role in the latter. This relates closely to one of the noble Earl's anxieties and, indeed, to those of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. There are now statutory requirements for social inquiry reports; that is the point relevant to them. Unless the court specifically decides otherwise, it will now be required to consider a social inquiry report before imposing a custodial sentence on an offender under 21 years of age or an offender 21 years or over who has not previously served a prison sentence. I do not think that precisely meets one of the cases brought forward this afternoon, but it is clearly a matter of great importance.

The preparation of these reports has been a major task of the service for many years. In 1982, for example, over a quarter of a million reports were made. Because of the resources and efforts involved in preparing such a large number of reports it is essential to ensure that they are provided only where they will be of real value and the intention of the 1982 Act is that there should be greater selectivity rather than a greater expansion in the volume of reporting.

We should therefore like to see reports being made on offenders who are actually being considered for custody. We also hope to increase the effectiveness of reports by various improvements in the way they are written. The guidance we have recently issued on this has been welcomed by both the courts and the service. Increasing the effectiveness of social inquiry reports will, of course, increase the influence of the probation service itself.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, perhaps I have misunderstood the Minister. He said that the reports should be strictly where custody was being considered. But surely it is not the intention to cut down on reports where one wants to see whether the offender is suitable for probation, a fine or a community service order?

Lord Elton

My Lords, on the detail I must write to the noble Baroness, but the intention is to concentrate the reporting in the areas where it will be of most constructive use to the court. Plainly that must include those about to be sentenced. The terms of this concentration and where the margins come are I am afraid, a refinement which escapes me and on which I may be illuminated later today. I will write to the noble Baroness because she has certainly made a point that requires consideration.

I come now to the supervision of juveniles. The 1982 Act confirms the role of the service in that supervision. Probation officers will continue to take a proportion of supervision orders in accordance with local arrangements made with social service departments. It is important that any proposals made by probation officers to the court about activities to be undertaken as part of supervision in the community are directed particularly at the more difficult juvenile offenders. The juvenile age group with which the probation service is usually concerned is the 14 to 16 year-olds. We see the main justification for the involvement of the probation service with these juveniles in their ability to deal constructively with those who may otherwise be entering on a criminal career.

I must now refer to the curfew or, as I prefer to call it, the night restriction requirement, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, intervened on this subject. I also refer to the so-called "negative requirement" in both supervision and probation orders, in which the noble Lord was joined in his concern by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk.

I do not wish to go over that ground again in detail. Noble Lords will recall the exchanges last year during the passage of the Bill. Briefly, there have been objections that the inclusion of curfew or negative requirements will be unenforceable and will damage the relationship between the supervisor and the offender. The Government have taken careful note of these objections, which we well understand are made on professional grounds. We have discussed the issues with the National Association of Probation Officers, and have consulted the other probation organisations and the Magistrates' Association. I am glad to say that, following these exchanges, we were able to issue a circular of guidance about supervision orders which emphasises the importance of consultation locally between magistrates and probation officers so that there is a mutual understanding of the circumstances when such requirements may be necessary. It also stresses the need to look at each individual case on its merits rather than approaching it with predetermined views. I am sure this is the right way to approach the issue and will ensure an appropriate use of these orders.

A further extension in the role of the probation service with juveniles is in community service for 16-year-olds. The right reverend Prelate, like other speakers and myself, preferred non-custodial treatment where it is appropriate and he emphasised the importance of community service. The rise in the number of offenders on community service and the operation of schemes are impressive, as the noble Earl made clear to us. The experience gained in dealing with those aged 17 and over encouraged us to bring in the lower age group, Here again, there is an opportunity for the service to divert offenders from custody at a vulnerable age. Arrangements for 16-year-olds to work under community service orders are being introduced gradually, just as community service was originally in the 1970s. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, may be glad to know that they will be provided in 14 areas by the beginning of July. By this autumn it will be available in half the probation areas. The remaining areas should follow in the next financial year. I have a note, which I shall endeavour to deal with later about the particular areas to which the noble Baroness referred.

Finally, under the Act we have clarified the statutory provision about requirements in probation orders. These provisions mark an important extension of the role of the probation service in a number of ways. An important result of this is that it has increased the range of offenders for whom the courts are able to consider probation as an appropriate disposal. Courts will have greater confidence because they will know what to expect from the period of supervision. They also know that the probation officer has a better opportunity to spell out clearly to the offender exactly what is expected of him. That is particularly helpful where, as is so often the case, the offender is immature or unrealiable—in fact, almost always. The probation service deserves a great deal of credit for the way in which it has seized these new opportunities, and I am sure will exploit them further in the future.

Many of the activities and centres being used in this way are in fact provided by other agencies in the community, and I believe there is an increasing and very healthy openness developing in the service. There is a new awareness in it of the resources outside its own provisions. In a sense, this has brought it closer into the community which it serves.

These developments also show the awareness that the probation service has of the wider social context in which it works; and they open up the possibility of providing a service not only to the courts and offenders but in some measure to the wider community as a whole. It would then be the business of the service to take note of the needs of the local community and to seek ways of encouraging measures to meet those needs. This should not divert the service from its primary concern with offenders. It would demonstrate, rather, that in performing that task it could at the same time respond to a wider constituency.

I was to say at this point a word about victim support schemes, but I feel I must curtail my remarks. We recognise that if probation officers are to supervise offenders in the community, then they must gain the confidence of that community by showing that they understand its concerns and problems. For their part, the Government certainly recognise the opportunities which lie ahead for the probation service. We have therefore begun a wide-ranging series of discussions with the probation organisations, to which I have already referred, about the future direction of the service.

These discussions are still at a comparatively early stage, and I do not wish to pre-empt further consideration of the issues by anything I say tonight. But I should like to indicate what lies behind our initiative. We believe the time is appropriate for a statement of the national objectives and priorities of the probation service in the criminal justice system. There have been so many changes affecting the service ever since the late 1960s that we think the service itself, the courts and everyone else concerned would find such a statement helpful. It would also be appropriate because I believe there is today more realism and more self-confidence in the service than there has been since the 1970s.

I have a lengthy response here to what has been said about the reduction in the salaries of the probation students, but I hesitate to deploy it all. Your Lordships have heard it at least twice in this House and frequently seen it on paper. We are discussing the salaries of people up to the age of 34. The noble Earl is concerned about the more mature entrants, as are we. I think that they, at the top end of the scale, suffer a 0.45 per cent. reduction. They are virtually in the same position. It goes down to a point which leaves the students in a position which I think is favourably comparable to other students in other disciplines of a comparable nature. It does not refer to anybody already in studentship. Everybody knows what they are taking on when they join. Neither does it affect the salaries of anybody who is a probation officer. It has nothing to do with that.

I say that, and welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, expressed anxieties about the dangers of a confrontational development of this, which I and my right honourable and honourable friends are anxious to avoid, although we do have a duty, and are pursuing it, to administer the service efficiently. There is a slightly larger sum of money at stake than people perhaps realise, and a principle as well.

May I now turn quickly to those who I have so far disappointed and pick up individual points. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, referred to the West Midlands, where there has indeed been a temporary ban on community service but only in certain petty session areas and for a short time. We actually support the wish of the chiefs of probation officers not to expand numbers at a rate which would prejudice the good discipline and quality of the work by bringing the change in too quickly. We believe in controlled growth. The West Midlands has already introduced community service for 16-year-olds, and I can now tell the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that Middlesex applied for community service for 16-year-olds to start in September and this is now under consideration. It has already been introduced in Cumbria and South East London. Morale in Middlesex is, I understand, high, and exciting work is being done among various racial groups. The Hillingdon intermediate treatment centre, jointly run by the probation and social services, is an example of what is being done in this area.

There has been recent growth in conciliation schemes which help couples to part amicably, thus helping to resolve questions about custody of and access to children, which I suppose are about the most painful issues for the children concerned and the resolution of which helps not only them but reduces the work of the service and the courts subsequently. I am delighted to acknowledge the work done by the Churches in this area. The probation service has played a constructive part in many areas in promoting this scheme. The Lord Chancellor's department has set up an interdepartmental committee to examine the conciliation issue. This committee's report is being studied at present. The noble Baroness's point about resources will be borne in mind, as indeed will that of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich.

I listened with great interest to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Kagan, about the training of prison officers. He frequently and properly reminded me of the need to know what is going on in other countries. Although the figures are not collected centrally, I understand that the probation service is in touch with about 10,000 people prepared to act as voluntary associates.

My last contribution of any substance is in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside. He introduced the Scottish dimension with charming but unnecessary diffidence. It was unnecessary because he gave sufficient warning to the relevant department to enable me to discover what I ought to say in reply. For that I am grateful. I should add that the department in question does not have a very high opinion, it would seem, of the academic achievements of Sassenach Ministers, since everything I have to say has been written in big capital letters which have not been joined up.

The noble and learned Lord raised the subject of responsibility for probation services in Scotland. This is something which has been the subject of close attention both by the Scottish Office and by others both before and since the passage of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 which gave the responsibility for probation and after-care to local authority social work departments. I can assure the noble Lord that we have considered the arguments carefully. The inclusion of responsibility for supervision of offenders as part of the statutory task of local authority social work departments is something which, in our view, enables the needs of the individual offender to be met in the wider context of his family and the community. This consideration—that an offender remains a member of the community with rights, duties and family responsibilities—has led us to the view, which we still maintain, that it would be a backward step to extract work with offenders from the mainstream of social work in Scotland and to create a separate specialist service which would in relative terms be very small and in danger of isolation if it were to deal with that field alone.

I should add that we are not complacent about the present position. We are aware that criticisms have been and are being made about the proportion of staff and resources that local authorities are devoting to offenders, as reflected in supervision and after-care. We know of the pressures and difficulties which they face. I should, however, make the point that local authorities are making very considerable efforts to increase the scale and quality of the services which they provide for offenders. As examples of this I should instance the fact that there are now more social workers in prison posts than ever before and that the number of community service orders made by the courts, which involve supervision by local authority staff, has been increasing very rapidly in recent years, community service schemes being now available over 75 per cent. of Scotland.

We are keeping developments in this area under review. A joint working group of the Scottish Office and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has recently begun a review of services for offenders in Scotland, which may serve as a basis for future thinking. But I think it is fair to say that neither we nor the local authorities envisage that the creation of a completely separate service for offenders of the kind foreseen by the noble and learned Lord would be a realistic measure.

We have had an interesting and stimulating debate. We shall take note of what has been said and consider it in the light of our future discussions with the service. May I say again that we welcome this opportunity to reflect on the work of the probation service. I am grateful to the noble Lords who have made contributions, even those to which I have not referred. They will be read with care. I hope that what I have said in answer to the Question of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, will reassure noble Lords that we are fully aware of the opportunities for an expanding role and shall not fail to grasp them.

House adjourned at four minutes before eight o'clock.